Ashlee Wright, MDA, RD, LD/N
Outpatient Registered Dietitian
Overhauling your diet sounds daunting, right? But small tweaks can make a lasting difference in your health and nutrition. These five changes — plus tips on how to achieve them — can help you score quick improvements in how you feel and give you the confidence to try for even bigger changes over time.
Eat More Fiber
If you’re only going to try one thing on this list, make it adding more fiber — it’s easier than you think. Look at a list of high-fiber foods — odds are, you’ll find things there that you already love (for example raspberries and blackberries, which each pack 8 grams of fiber per cup). Increasing fruits and veggies you already like is as simple as adding them to your grocery list more frequently.
Why does fiber matter? It’s often associated with improved digestion — a big plus for anybody who has issues there — but it also helps with blood-sugar control and weight management. A lot of fiber-rich food is also rich in prebiotics, which helps to feed the “good” bacteria in our gut. A word of caution: Go slowly. The goal is 25 grams of fiber a day — most Americans don’t get anywhere near that, and if you add that much in a hurry you may feel bloated and uncomfortable while your body adjusts. Instead aim to add about 5 grams a week until you reach the recommended amount.
Easy ways to start: Switch from white bread or pasta to whole wheat. For picky eaters, try the middle ground of breads and pastas with fiber added that don’t taste quite so wheaty.
Drink More Water
We know, we know — many people don’t like the taste of water. But being well-hydrated improves brain and digestive function, maintains your skin’s elasticity and keeps blood sugar better controlled (because it makes your blood more dilute and the sugars less concentrated than if you are dehydrated). You don’t have to guzzle from a jug — refilling a small cup multiple times a day can seem more doable at first. Try a bottle with a built-in infuser where you can add fresh fruit to flavor the water.
Buy In-Season Foods
Fresh is always going to taste better, so you’re rewarded right away by choosing in-season foods, making it more pleasurable to get those recommended daily minimums. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services maintains Fresh From Florida, which tells you what’s in season in the Sunshine State month by month. (There are recipes, too.) In-season foods also cost less. Pro tip: It sounds counterintuitive, but buying frozen foods can be a way to extend the season, because such foods are generally frozen immediately upon harvesting. What you might give up in taste or texture you will get back in savings, as frozen food is cheaper and doesn’t spoil as quickly. Another tip: Don’t fall into the boil-or-steam rut — look for other ways to prepare your favorites, like roasting, that will yield entirely different flavors from familiar foods.
Be Choosy About Your Fats
We’re not going to harsh on fats — let’s be honest, they’re what make many foods delicious. But if you want satisfaction without the health risks associated with saturated fats (which are always animal-based — meat, butter, cheese), go for fats that come from plants and fish. Avocadoes, nuts, salmon and tuna are all examples of healthier fat sources that reduce levels of inflammation and cholesterol. It’s not necessary to eliminate animal fats; just keep that intake lower than healthier sources. Remember also that fat is fat — every gram has 9 calories, no matter the source. A serving of nuts is about a quarter cup, or a handful — so don’t take the jar out to watch TV. If you’re using olive oil — a heart-healthy fat — a sprayer or mister is a good investment that will help you get even distribution without using more than you need.
Eat More (Often)
Never put off your hunger. Too often folks think, “I had lunch, so I shouldn’t eat until dinner,” by which time you’re ravenous and not really focusing on what’s going in your mouth. Think of healthy snacks or more-frequent smaller meals as a tool for when you need them, to stave off more-intense hunger by your next meal. Being hangry has a bum rap, but eating should not be considered a negative experience — we’ve all gotta do it.
One Last Tip
Too often we adopt an all-or-nothing attitude that sets us up to feel frustrated and guilty when we fail.
It’s not necessary to do all of these at once in order to see benefit. Pick one thing that would be easy for you to implement in the next week. Then give yourself some grace and have patience — if you stick to it, you will see results.
SOURCE: ORLANDO HEALTH